Well-known Fivemiletown man, Alan Speer is one of Northern Ireland’s longest serving hairstylists. The proprietor of Speer’s hair salon notched up 60 years in the hairdressing profession last month.

He has been running Speer’s on 131 Main Street, Fivemiletown for 57 years now, having started out in hairdressing three years before that.

Born on Main Street, Fivemiletown, a son of Jean and Samuel Speer, his mother Jean was a hairstylist on Main Street and both Alan and his late brother Gary followed in their mother’s footsteps.

Jean started working as a hairdresser in the middle of the town in the mid thirties. Alan recalls that following a major fire in the street in 1937 she moved to the current premises on 131 Main Street, Fivemiletown, and the business has been there ever since.

Jean, who passed away in 1978, continued working until the sixties.
Alan’s brother, Gary worked as a hairdresser in the same premises, having joined in 1966. He passed away in 2009.

Alan has continued to run the business, joined by his wife Estelle who helps out in the salon. They have two sons, Glenn and Wayne.

Following his education – attained in Fivemiletown Primary School and Enniskillen Technical College – Alan embarked on his long hairdressing career – starting out working in his uncle Billy Crawford’s barber shop in 1957. “He was based on Main Street at the time of the fire and then moved to the premises next door to the current salon,” recollected Alan.

He learned the barber’s trade and then went to his mother to learn ladies’ hairdressing. Reminiscing about his time in his uncle’s barber’s shop, Alan remembers Billy used to go out to shave an occasional corpse, and he smiles as he recalls his uncle telling him that “the corpse never said that the razor was not sharp enough!”

Alan then went to London in 1960 to do hairdressing at a hairdressing school at the top of Oxford Street, where he spent four months.
He returned to Fivemiletown, where over the years he has styled both ladies and gents’ hair.

“I enjoy it very much,” enthuses Alan, who admits that he is mad to get to work every morning.

Reflecting on prices from earlier decades, he says in 1960 a man’s shave cost a shilling, while a man’s haircut cost two shillings. Other prices from 1960 include a perm costing either 25 or 30 shillings and a shampoo and set was four shillings. A colour was 17 shillings and six pence.

“There were 10 shades of colour then – black to blonde,” remembers Alan, who says “the maker was Inecto.”

Roller setting was popular in the sixties, recalls Alan, who says blow drying was just coming in at that period. “Vidal Sassoon had designed the bob haircut then,” he said. 

He explained that there were “quite a lot of short hair cuts” and he said that the bob, which was just coming in then, remains in fashion after all those years. 

Alan recollects that cold perms came in during the sixties, having previously been done in a machine and were hot perms.

Looking back on hairstyles at the start of the sixties, he mentioned there was a set known as the ‘cottage loaf’ and beehives were also popular. 

“There was a lot of back combing in the sixties,” he said. He talks about men’s hairstyles being long in the sixties and there were long sidelocks. 

Some men’s hairstyles from the sixties are coming back, such as faded hair cuts, explains Alan, in reference to styles that are short at the back and longer at the front. “There are different variations of it,” he said.

In the 1970s/80s the mullet style “was very popular for ladies and gents,” says Alan, who explains that the mullet was a permed style, left to dry naturally. “It looked quite good at the time,” he believes. 

“There were a lot of stack perms when just the ends were permed,” continued Alan, who expects this trend will come back.

Alan, who loves perming hair and regards it as very technical, looked back at the late 80s when he says there were naturally dried perms, ‘wash and wear’.

Talking about the 90s and hair colouring, he mentions that “highlights and lowlights were coming in” then. 

Acknowledging all his customers over the years, he points out that his most senior customer is 94, while he has lots of customers who have been coming for 40 to 50 years to Speer’s. One female customer has been coming in weekly since before her wedding 67 years ago, discloses Alan, who says they call her ‘Ma’.

He has enjoyed building up a lot of friendships over the years and said that he has 15 different nationalities (mostly men) currently coming into the salon.

Four generations of the same families are among those coming into Alan’s salon, and he mentioned that one of his customers penned a poem about Speer’s, which highlights the generations, and is on display in the salon.

Alan plans to work for as long as his health permits. “Hopefully I’ll be here for another while,” he quips.
And when asked how he marked his recent 60 year milestone on August 1, he said it was “just back to work!”